When I began writing this blog in March 2013, I hoped it would do something I very much needed at the time: create some breathing room.
I had moved countries and jobs, and my new professional responsibilities had crowded out much of the space I needed for thinking through my teaching, beyond the nuts and bolts of weekly prep and marking. I started The Activist Classroom as a place where I could simply reflect: on what was going well, or poorly; on moments of success and failure; on tools I’d discovered that might help make my practice better. The writing helped me sleep at night.
After some early and spectacular teaching pratfalls – bawling my face off in front of a room of startled first-year English students at Dalhousie in 1997 remains, truly, my finest teaching hour – I had developed a thick(ish) skin and a capacity for openness and transparency. And I’d long since learned that the quickest way to escape a pedagogical pickle was to be honest about the problem – with my students, with my colleagues, and with myself – and then to invite feedback. The blog’s voice developed from my natural tendency to overshare in public, coupled with my earnest willingness to expose my shortcomings in the service of learning.
The blog’s focus, though, always owed its origins to my time as a postdoctoral fellow in the Performance as a Public Practice stream at the University of Texas at Austin. PPP advocates performance as a tool for shaping social change and activating thoughtful, critical citizenship; it put performance as a means, and social activism as a goal, together for me at the beginning of my life as a full-time teacher. To this day I believe that teaching is a performance of citizenship, one in which instructors model intellectual curiosity, open-minded and collaborative knowledge-building, and encourage students to understand learning as an investment in a shared, equitable future. It is what my scholarly mentor at Austin (and fellow feminist blogger) Jill Dolan might call an especially powerful utopian performative.
Lately, though, I have found myself running a bit empty. While the blog remains a cherished reflection space for me, I’ve also become weary of the labour of finding new ways to say many of the same things I’ve already said. And I’ve grown a bit sick of my own voice, truthfully; I am only one teacher, and my perspective, however hard I work to bring other voices into my writing here, dominates. This isn’t how any good classroom should work: classrooms are at their best when they are collaborative spaces.
Cut to the end of June. Kelsey Blair – women’s basketball guru, young adult author, newly minted SFU PhD incoming postdoctoral fellow at McGill University – grabs me out of the post-luncheon fray during the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research. Kelsey tells me how much she admires the blog – a kindness I have appreciated from so many grad student and early career readers, thank you! – and then asks me:
Have you ever considered opening the blog up to other voices?
Friends, have I ever!
Fast forward to high summer. Kelsey has agreed to take on the proper job of Activist Classroom curator and co-producer; we’ve spent time in person (with donuts) and on Skype (with coffee) planning and visioning a reboot of this much-cherished (for both of us) space. We’ve developed a mandate for The Activist Classroom under renovation; it captures what we both feel is most worth holding onto as we move forward in collaboration.
Here it is.
What does it mean to be a human being standing in front of a classroom, performing?
How do the things that happen inside our classrooms affect our lives outside the classroom? How does our teaching teaching practice participate in, affect, and even shape, public discourse?
What is an activist classroom and why should we strive to create one?
The Activist Classroom is a teaching commons populated by a diverse community of curators, contributors, and readers.
We understand pedagogy to be a process, an always-shifting practice that requires regular thinking through and tending; we recognize teachers to be committed, creative professionals, but also imperfect human beings who likewise need regular care, tending, and support.
The site began in 2013 as a blog about pedagogy and performance; today, the AC retains its core emphasis on the active, inherently theatrical elements of teaching practice. We understand post-secondary teaching as an essential form of public performance, in which teachers and students work together to figure out the script, devise a better plot, and work through the challenges that collaborative knowledge-making inevitably creates.
Our content includes accessible, free, and above all honest responses to the challenges and joys of teaching. Our goal is to provide a wide range of tools and possible solutions for supporting teaching practice, and to advance our understanding about what teaching accomplishes in and beyond our classrooms.
We welcome contributions in a variety of formats and lengths, from short essays and interviews, to videos, to memes and gifs.
The shift from single-author blog to teaching commons will take place under Kelsey’s curation over the next few months. We aim to be as inclusive and equitable as possible in building this new common space, and we are excited to share contributions from teachers across the career spectrum, teachers both inside and beyond academic theatre and performance studies, and teachers whose embodied experiences represent a range of ways of looking at and shaping the future of our shared learning endeavours.
My voice will recede as the commons evolves, though I will remain a regular (if less frequent) contributor. I’m thankful to have had so much time, space, and opportunity over the last six years to share thoughts on my practice in this space, and I’m excited to discover and learn from our new community members.
Let The Activist Classroom 2.0 take shape!
With gratitude to you all for reading,